Wednesday, November 7, 2012


CRITIQUING: There’s a big difference in being honest and being brutal—constructive and destructive

When I got serious about my writing, and wrote my first novel, I made a cazillion mistakes. I was such a newbie. 

List of Participants
What saved me was entering a contest and in the course of that contest, I came into contact with real creative writers. That was my real prize—feedback and serious critiques, that and learning terms. What the hell did they mean when writers and judges would say ‘good bones’ and  ‘need to work on POV’? Keep in mind, I hadn't taken any writing courses in at least ten years and fiction-writing styles had changed considerably in that time. I didn't win the contest (which was a romance writing contest where you also received critiques from other writers and contestants) although I finished in the top 20% out of about 1200 entries. Not bad, considering the mistakes I made.

I like to receive honest critiques.  If something isn't working, I’d like to know that. I take my work seriously. I don’t hand my work to just anyone.  I tend to pick those who know what they’re doing, whose opinion I value, and who write the same genre or similar genre.   I like suggestions, questions, and I also love it when someone reads something that they really like or makes them laugh and they mention it. 

The contest taught me the need for a tough skin, which was reinforced by the first serious critique of my manuscript.  The poor thing about bled to death with all the red lining. CPR was difficult but it survived and so did I.  

But you know what?

She was right. 

She wasn't harsh, but she was to the point and honest. She’s a published author and one for whom I have a great deal of respect.

I've always said if you want someone to tell you your writing is wonderful, hand it to your family or your mother. I call that blowing sunshine and butterflies. 

You want honesty then give it to a fellow writer you respect. And then listen to what they say. Give yourself think about it a bit—once you get over the shock. 

And the sting to your ego.

When I critique, I’m never brutal or critique to hurt. I don’t believe in destructive critiques at all. There’s no point to them.  There’s a big difference in being honest and being brutal. Constructive critiques improve your writing or style. That’s what we want, suggestions or pointers on how to make the story stronger, make the characters more realistic, or how to plug those holes in our manuscript big enough to drive a Mack truck through.

I may have been writing all my life and won contests but that doesn't make me a great writer. Critiques will do that and the willingness to listen and learn.  A readiness to sharpen your craft and be willing to put your manuscript on a strict diet to trim away the excess fat so you can see those great bones in your writing.

  • What has been your writing experience?
                                           How do you feel about critiques?


Yolanda Renee said...

My first one made me cry. Then I realized just about everything said was true. Now I look forward to them because I always learn something, see a new way, WRITE BETTER! I'll still throw out the nonsense, but even if 99% is nonsense that 1% really makes a difference!

I love critiques -- especially the brutal ones!

Good post!

Kat Sheridan said...

My first critiques turned me into a turtle--so bloody I retreated into my shell and didn't write again for ages. I've gotten better and learned to say "pfft" (or other bad words) when I think the critique is wrong, and to walk away and consider when I think the person critiquing has something of value to say.

I'm a terrible one to critique anybody. I try to be kind but there are times when hard things have to be said. I wish I was good at blowing glitter up somebody's skirt, but I don't think that helps the writer. I do try to use a dull blade, but I know it still cuts the writer sometimes to read what I have to say. What folks often don't realize is that the blade cuts both ways--it hurts to have to same something bad about another writer's work, since I do understand, from first-hand experience, how it can sting.

These days I try to avoid critiquing just because I hate hurting anyone.

Ciara said...

I'm with you, great and honest but not brutal. Critiques are so important to a writer.

~Sia McKye~ said...

I think there are many who mistake brutal for honest. Be honest and constructive there is no need for destructive ripping and trashing. the intent is to make the writer better--not send them into a writer's hibernation.

L. Diane Wolfe said...

I want the truth but I also want suggestions. Give me a nudge.

My husband has long since gotten past saying he loves it and has no problem telling me what doesn't work.

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

You've seen my post today - I dig critiques!

Donna Shields said...

My first one left me pretty hurt. But then, I swallowed my pride and realized my critique partner was dead on. I swear, at times, they don't seem to get any easier. That's probably when my pride's getting the best of me.

I love my critique partners though. They make me see the light.

Jo said...

Any kind of criticism of one's "art" tends to hurt. The secret is to get over it and learn from what the critics have said.